By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — A Grad rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck in southern Israel early Tuesday, threatening to further escalate tensions that have been mounting since Saturday, when a 30-year-old Palestinian prisoner died in an Israeli jail.
The rocket, which came down on a road outside the city of Ashkelon and caused no injuries, was the first from Gaza to hit Israel in the three months since a cease-fire agreement ended eight days of cross-border violence. Israel has violated the cease-fire several times by firing on fishermen and farmers approaching newly relaxed security perimeters, but the agreement has otherwise held.
A subgroup of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of the Palestinians’ Fatah faction, said it fired the rocket in response to what it called the “assassination” of Arafat Jaradat, the prisoner who died on Saturday. Palestinian leaders have placed blame for Mr. Jaradat’s death on what they described as “severe torture” during interrogation, though Israeli officials say the bruising and broken ribs cited as evidence of torture could have been caused by resuscitation efforts.
Mushir al-Masri, a lawmaker from the militant Hamas faction that rules the Gaza Strip, said in an interview that Israel was “fully responsible for the consequences of the wave of the Palestinian public fury.”
After the rocket attack, Israel shut its border crossings with Gaza to goods and people, allowing only “medical, humanitarian and exceptional cases,” according to a statement from the military. President Shimon Peres, who was visiting southern Israel on a previously scheduled tour, said, “Quiet will be met with quiet; missiles will be met with a response.”
Giora Eiland, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said renewed rocket fire could change the current delicate balance between Israel and the Palestinians because international opinion is largely critical of Israel’s actions in the West Bank but is sympathetic when Israel comes under attack from Gaza.
“I believe that it is under control, it can be contained, and with some gestures from both sides and clear messages from Washington — which I understand are coming every few hours — it will be able to prevent an escalation and not to deteriorate ourselves to a third intifada,” Mr. Eiland said, using the Arabic word for uprising. “There is a very delicate line between two conflicting interests: to do something in order to preserve the jihadic identity, to preserve the spirit of resistance, to serve so many domestic interests, but not to do something that would bring some unproportional response.”